One of the most historic and romantic cities in Germany, Heldelberg is also one of the most popular cities along the well-named Castle Road.
These are my favorite spots from several recent visits, including to update Fodor’s Essential Germany, for which I wrote the chapter on Heidelberg and the surrounding Neckar Valley.
What to Do in Heidelberg
Heidelberg is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in the 1300s, so there’s a youthful vibe that both contrasts to and blends with its Medieval and Baroque towers and ruins and stately Victorian hotels and homes.
Heidelberg Castle (Schloss Heidelberg) –
The city’s skyline is dominated by the Heidelberg Castle, parts of which date from the 1500s.
In 1612, ruler Frederich V built a new wing for his Scottish bride, Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I of England. What began as a political alliance turned into a great love affair, which is honored each summer by bathing the hilltop castle in lights over several weekends, plus fireworks.
There are sumptuous historic rooms to tour, plus a wonderful large garden with multiple walking paths.
My favorite part of the complex is the huge walk-in wine cask, said to be the largest in the world.
It is made from more than 100 oak trees and can hold 55,000 gallons of wine. Not surprisingly, it’s a popular spot for selfies, but you’ll need a wide angle lens to get it all in.
Also be sure to visit the German Apothecary Museum (Deutsches Apotheken-Museum) here, with recreations of drugstores from previous centuries. It’s included in the ticket to the castle.
It’s a serious one hour hike uphill from the historic Market Square downtown to the castle. Save your lungs, your legs and your time by taking the funicular, called the Konigstuhl Bergbahn, which whisks you to the top in around 15 minutes, with lovely views along the way.
There’s also a restaurant and a small inn at the top, one stop above the castle. And, of course, there’s a restaurant at the castle.
Old Bridge (Alte Brucke) –
This bridge across the Neckar River, between the city side and the castle side, once was part of the city’s Medieval fortifications. Today, it’s a popular pedestrian-only walkway with lovely views, and. also a top spot for souvenir photos.
You could keep walking to the Philosophers Path (Philosophenweg) for more picture postcard views, of both the castle and across the river back to the old city.
Every city has its signature something, and Heidelberg has more than one. In addition to the castle, it’s the iconic chocolate kiss, created long before Hershey’s.
Back in the old days, it was against the law for unmarried people to kiss in public. That’s the simple backstory for the chocolate Heidelberger Studentenkuss.
Exchanging them was a sweet – and delicious – demonstration of affection that was allowed in the 1800s, quickly adopted by the students attending the university.
The place to buy Heidelberg’s chocolate kisses is Cafe Knossel, where you’ll find a variety of sizes, each one wrapped in the signature red paper with a silhouette of lovers. The gift shop is separate from the cafe, which serves coffee, pastries and light snacks.
Cafe Knossel has been around since 1853, and the Heidelberger Studentenkuss chocolates from 1863.
Where to Eat in Heidelberg
My favorite restaurant in Heidelberg is Zum Roten Oschen (the Red Ox), family-owned and operated for around two centuries.
This is where you’ll find traditional local Swabian fare, including maultaschen, meat-filled raviolis. They are served both as a main meal with sides or floating in a soup. Delicious either way, for lunch or dinner, depending on your appetite.
The rough-hewn tables at Zum Roten Oschen show the wear and tear of many generations of diners, and the walls are covered with photos and other testimonials of famous people who have eaten here, including Mark Twain and Marilyn Monroe.
There are several other historic restaurants along the city’s main street, Haupstrasse, so you won’t go hungry in Heidelberg. The street also is lined with shops.
Because this is a university town, there’s a lively night life. Find live music at Billy Blues and at Halle 02, an old railway station that’s been converted into art galleries and a music club.
While beer is the beverage of choice in most of Germany, in Heidelberg, the top choice is local wine from the surrounding hillsides of the Neckar Valley.
Try these local wine varieties:
Trollinger is a popular crisp, light red. Spaetburgunder is more meaty, closer to a Pinot Noir.
Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder are dry white wines. Or, try one of the local Rieslings.
Daytrip from Heidelberg: Neckarzimmern
The main attraction here is the hilltop Burg Hornberg, which dates from the 11th century. It’s now part hotel, part museum, and part of the reason this area is called the Castle Road.
In the 16th century, this was home to a legendary knight, Goetz von Berlichingen, who lost his right arm in battle. The iron replacement fashioned by a local blacksmith is on display in the museum, along with other Medieval armor.
For many Germans, though, the castle and the knight are more famous for his retort to an insult. The kinder, gentler English translation is “kiss my ass”. When used today, it’s regarded as giving someone “a Goetz”. Use it wisely.
The complex also is home to the German Raptor Center, with falconry events and other chances to see fabulous hawks and other birds of prey.
Neckarzimmern is 50 miles from Heidelberg.
Read more things to do in Germany, including Heidelberg, in my recrent article for the Fodor’s Travel website.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter is a journalist with 20+ years of experience as a newspaper and magazine writer, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and author of guidebooks and smartphone apps – all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer.
I’m also the American-born daughter of two immigrant German parents – my mother from Munich and my father from Frankfurt, and grew up bi-lingual English/German. I visit Germany often, and write about it often.
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